Kelowna's Childhood Connections fighting to keep its doors open | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna's Childhood Connections fighting to keep its doors open

Image Credit: PEXELS/cottonbro

Childhood Connections, a not-for-profit organization in Kelowna that offers several childcare resources, has lost its government funding after it was diverted to the YMCA of Southern Interior.

At the end of 2023, Childhood Connections was made aware they would have to compete for a government contract they heavily relied on to run their organization, a first in their history.

"There's a contract we've held for about 40 years, known as the Childcare Resource and Referral Contract and recently it came up for bid and the government awarded it to the YMCA instead of us," Tim Ropchan, Executive Director of Childhood Connections says. "It's the first time this contract has come up for bid in 40 years."

The Ministry of Education and Childcare says they were directed by the BC Comptroller General to go through a procurement process for the contract and that is the reason it was put up for bid for the first time in decades.

With the contract being deferred to another organization, Childhood Connections has now lost a majority of its operating budget.

While this could put the organization at risk of shutting down, it is currently doing everything it can to bounce back from this to keep providing its services.

"This government contract represented about 70% of our operating revenue, the other 30% we get from provincial and local grants and whatever income is generated from our childcare facility. Operationally, we're short about $20,000 to $25,000 per month, so for one year we're about $300,000 short just to operate," Ropchan says.

"We are committed to trying, and pivoting and finding a way to serve the community in the longstanding quality way that we've had since 1977, but we do need funding."

This contract was directly allocated to operating childcare support programs, but other programs and resources Childhood Connections offers are also at risk because of how big the loss is for the organization.

"What that contract does is that it funds our toy library for childcare providers and families, it funds supporting childcare providers with setting up childcare, providing more training for their staff and being a resource to them. For families, we help them find childcare, we help complete subsidy forms, we do anything related to that childcare support piece and the funding to this whole piece has been taken away," Ropchan says.

"What we do still have going on is the drop-in childcare facility which is at risk of not existing anymore because of this situation and we have our family programs which provide wrap-around, attachment-based parenting programs, food security and these other family resource programs as we call them are also at risk."

Ropchan explains how dire the situation is, especially when it comes to the risk of losing the childcare facility in the current context.

"The drop-in childcare program is a huge piece in the Okanagan - where we're still in a childcare crisis - and to close down another childcare facility that provides something flexible and useful for parents is not good for anyone," he says.

"We can see anywhere up to 125 hours of childcare per day. The way it works is we are licensed for up to 16 kids at a time and we're open eight hours a day and parents can book in for as little as one hour a day which makes it a flexible, occasional system that supports parents who need flexible childcare, so it would be a huge loss."

The loss of the contract has also caused the loss of staff within the organization.

"We had to lay off three full-time employees, one of which has been here for over 30 years and other staff had their hours reduced dramatically and, overall, cut back on our operational hours."

At first, they saw the bid as an opportunity to expand their services as the new contract involved a budget increase. In failing to win the contract, the organization now simply hopes to maintain its services and resources as it moves forward, but time is of the essence.

"They added a significant amount of funding to this contract and so we created this partnered bid that would have extended our services to provide locations across the Okanagan, so we had a really strong partnership planned to deliver these services extensively more than what we have been because there was an increase of around $300,000 more in yearly funding," Ropchan says.

"We want to create something special here, as we've done over the last 40 years, so we want to create something that provides for the community, creates a village for families, and be that resource that has been trusted for so long but we'll now have to do so in a different capacity. We're going to need funding soon; over the next 12 months, it's going to be key for us to find a pivot strategy. Whether or not we make it that far is still uncertain though."

The organization has requested, but has yet to receive an explanation from the Ministry of Education and Childcare as to the reason their funding was diverted.

Childhood Connections remains hopeful that their advocacy could lead to more money or, at least, lead to the organization's next phase.

"Our future is uncertain right now, we had a big rally this past weekend, there's been a lot of advocacy done, and there is a petition that was brought to the legislature so we were hoping to get funding from the government as a result of the advocacy, but as of yet we don't have anything."

"We're excited for what could come next, but it's a nerve-wracking time because we want to continue and we don't want to close down, pack up and leave."

The Minister of State for Childcare, Mitzi Dean wants to reassure families and insists that the transition of services from Childhood Connections to the YMCA will be seamless.

"The Y has already put out a list of services they will be offering, so they will be offering a toys library, drop-in play program, parenting programs as well as that really vital connection for families and those referrals to early learning and childcare services as well," Dean says. "The contract is meant to fund a specific list of services which Childhood Connections was offering, but will now all be available at the YMCA and we are ensuring a seamless transition in services."

As part of ensuring the transition in services, the Ministry of Education and Childcare has offered funding to Childhood Connections so they can financially make it through the process.

"We've already provided funding to Childhood Connections to support them in that transition of their service to the Y and families should experience should experience seamless transitions and there won't be a reduction in services," she says. "The ministry has provided over $18,500 in funding for four months."

To learn more about the petition that strives to keep Childhood Connections' doors open and to sign it, visit the website here. To donate to Childhood Connections, visit their website here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Gabrielle Adams or call (438) 830-1211 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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